Heinrich Böll Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

A prolific writer, Heinrich Böll is best known for his novels, many of which might better be called novellas, like his first two, Der Zug war pünktlich (1949; The Train Was on Time, 1956) and Wo warst du, Adam? (1951; Adam, Where Art Thou?, 1955). Other novels include Und sagte kein einziges Wort (1953; Acquainted with the Night, 1954), Billard um halbzehn (1959; Billiards at Half-Past Nine, 1961), and Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum: Oder, Wie Gewalt entstehen und wohin sie führen kann (1974; The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum: Or, How Violence Develops and Where It Can Lead, 1975). In addition, he frequently wrote essays, statements, radio plays, translations, poems, and dramas.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Heinrich Böll arrived on the German literary scene shortly after the total collapse of Adolf Hitler’s National Socialism. Deeply suspicious of all authority and mistrustful of much that he saw about him in the fledgling Federal Republic, the young former Wehrmacht veteran dedicated his writing to the cause of democratic humanism. Early associated with the young left-leaning writers and thinkers of Gruppe 47 (for the year 1947), such as Günter Grass, Stefan Lenz, Uwe Johnson, and Ilse Aichinger, Böll turned out a stream of fiction that attracted attention and won numerous prizes, first in his own country and then in the world. In 1969, he was elected president of the West German PEN Club (a writers’ union) and in 1971 of the International PEN. In 1972, he became the first German to win the Nobel Prize in Literature since Thomas Mann in 1929.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Although Heinrich Böll (bohl) is known chiefly for his novels and short stories, he also wrote plays, essays, and poems, and he was an active lecturer, critic, and translator. His essays on literature (which include discussions of Fyodor Dostoevski, Thomas Wolfe, François Mauriac, Mary McCarthy, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn) show his familiarity with European and American literature. In his essays on politics, Böll was an outspoken critic of trends in modern German society. Together with his wife, Böll translated works by Irish, English, and American authors into German, including works by John Synge, Brendan Behan, and J. D. Salinger. A comprehensive ten-volume edition of Böll’s works was published in Germany beginning in 1977. The first five volumes contain novels and stories; the second five contain radio plays, dramas, film texts, poems, essays, reviews, speeches, commentaries, and interviews.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Heinrich Böll is probably the best-known twentieth century German writer in Germany and abroad. In Germany, his work is popular at all levels of society. His books have been widely translated into many languages. Böll was the Western author most frequently published and read in the Soviet Union. Until 1951, however, he was virtually unknown. In that year, Gruppe 47 awarded him its Literature Prize for his story “Die schwarzen Schafe” (“The Black Sheep”). After that, Böll received many prizes, including the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1972. The Swedish Academy praised Böll for his broad perspective on his time and for his sensitive characterizations, acknowledging his contribution to the renewal of German literature after the Nazi era. In 1969, Böll was elected president of the West German PEN Club, evidence of the respect that other writers had for him. He was elected president of the International PEN Club in 1971, the first German to be so honored, and he served in that position until May, 1974. In 1974, Böll received the Carl von Ossietzky Medal from the International League of Human Rights in recognition of his concern for human rights. He was made an honorary member of the American Academy of Art and Literature and of the American National Institute of Art and Literature in the same year. Böll’s outspoken criticisms of the social abuses he perceived in modern German society provoked widespread debate.

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

How did the course of German history affect the early life and early career of Heinrich Böll?

To what extent was it impossible for Böll to evade politically motivated literature?

Consider the possibilities of Böll’s writing that are beneficial to American writers who are themselves antagonistic to the course of American sociopolitical developments in the early twenty-first century.

Explain the significance of Böll’s use of unreliable narrators.

What characteristics make clowns perceptive critics of social and moral deficiencies?

In Group Portrait with Lady, does Leni defy or fulfill the implications of having been chosen “most German girl” in school?

Discuss Böll’s distinction between characters as “compositions” and characters as psychological creations.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Conard, Robert C. Heinrich Böll. Boston: Twayne, 1981. Written before Böll’s death and thus incomplete in a number of respects, this book is nevertheless one of the best introductions to and studies of Böll’s work readily available to the general reader. Includes chronologies and helpful bibliographies, though many of the sources listed are in German.

Conard, Robert C. Understanding Heinrich Böll. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1992. Provides a general introduction to Böll’s life and work, with chapter 4 focusing on his major novels, including Billiards at Half-Past Nine, The Clown, Group Portrait with Lady, and The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum.

Crampton, Patricia, trans. Heinrich Böll, on His Death: Selected Obituaries and the Last Interview. Bonn: Inter Nationes, 1985. Brief volume presents a collection of short elegiac essays as well as Böll’s last interview. Offers many perceptive and impressionistic insights into both the man and the writer. Includes about a dozen photographs of Böll in his last years.

Ludden, Teresa. “Birth and the Mother in Materialist Feminist Philosophy and Contemporary German Texts.” Women 17, no. 3 (Winter, 2006): 341-354. Provides a critical analysis of the treatment of childbirth in works by Böll and...

(The entire section is 593 words.)